SuperBetter: What Are Your Power-ups?
Bleak. That is the word that pops into my head when I listen to the news or read the paper or peruse Facebook. Every new development about the incoming administration makes me want to step away from everything and everyone; huddle on the floor with Truman, count down the 1,460 days until the next term. Except. I know that the damage inflicted on the next four years will have repercussion well into the future.
When deep breaths don’t work — and I’ll be frank, I’m past the point of deep breaths — there are Jane McGonigal’s SuperBetter power-ups. Power-ups are items in video games that give the player more energy or extra powers or additional time. For instance, you may catch a bouncing star on the screen and suddenly be able to run through enemies without being affected or eat a flower and be able to spit fireballs.
McGonigal defines a power-up as any “positive action you can take, easily, that creates a quick moment of pleasure.” So going to Disney World would definitely make me happy, but it isn’t easy. And listening to music is easy, but it doesn’t make me happy. This list is personal — it’s what brings YOU pleasure that is easy to access or do.
I’ve been struggling to come up with my power-ups in the face of this bleakness; things that bring me as much (if not more) happiness than the news brings me sadness. Like I put a few apps on the list because they always make me happy: Shuffle Cats, Hay Day, Solitaire, Backgammon, Desert Golfing, Mini Metro. They all make me happy, but do they make me happy enough? If I’m being honest, they make me feel a little shallow, which brings down the pleasure factor.
[It doesn’t help that McGonigal’s are so virtuous. Singing loud? Dancing in the living room? Eating a handful of almonds? It’s hard to say, “Making a fake metro system on an app makes me happy for five minutes” when you notice other people are talking about getting out into the sunshine and going for a walk with their dog. I don’t like sunshine, and I don’t have a dog.]
I’ve always kept a “like” list at the front of my bullet journal, so I mined it for my power-ups. I like magic, so I thought about watching magic tricks on YouTube. There are a lot of books I love, and I could read a chapter in one of them. Coffee. I am a big fan of coffee, and it would make me feel happy to have a cup of iced decaf in the middle of the day. And I am a fan of chess. I could play a game of chess.
The book helps you to think up power-ups with a list of questions on page 176. What’s a song that makes me feel powerful? “Forgotten Years” by Midnight Oil. (Maybe? I don’t know if powerful is the right word. But it feels like we’re currently living the history that the next generation will claim as “these should not be forgotten years.”) Almost anything They Might Be Giants makes me feel happy, but that’s not the same as powerful.
Who makes me feel calm? Josh. What physical activity energizes you? Nothing. I’m an indoor kid who prefers to read and not run. Is there a place that I can get to easily that makes me happy? My bed.
This is sounding like a real downer of a power-up post. But here’s the thing she points out: Happiness begets happiness. When you are feeling bleak, you use a power-up and it barely does anything. But you use a power-up and another power-up and another power-up, and at some point, you start to actually feel happy rather than using bits of forced happiness, and that real happiness begets more real happiness until you’re using the power-ups as a little burst from time to time instead of a way to get through the day.
I decided to put one power-up into effect every day: I am going to read for 20 minutes during lunch. For 10 years, I’ve eaten lunch at my desk and worked through the meal. I’m going to take two weeks to read mid-day and see if that changes the way I approach the news knowing I have that break to look forward to and energize me for the second part of the day.
What are five things that consistently make you happy or feel good?
* In my defense, if I had written this post when I originally wanted to write this post, I would probably have felt more energy for power-ups. But I made the note to write about this on October 14th, back when I foolishly believed we’d spend the next four years moving things forward instead of backward.